Kevin Williams (left) and Tommy Fountain, Sr. (right) talk on the phone almost every day commiserating with one another about their battle with COVID-19 and encouraging one another to stay strong in the midst of the current pandemic. Notice that both are still dependent upon oxygen therapy.
VILLA RICA/MONROE – The pandemic that tormented our world for the whole of 2020, has been called a blight, a scourge, a curse, and a pestilence. The rampaging disease has plunged all of us into a “twilight zone” that should be reserved only for television dramas. The number of reported COVID-19 cases is rapidly approaching 100 million worldwide; and the United States has reported a disproportionate 22 million plus cases.
The lives of people everywhere have been disrupted in significant ways by the pandemic. Most have had family members afflicted with the virus to varying degrees of severity. Many have had loved ones who have succumbed to the “virus” and buried without friends and in some cases family members present for the funeral.
The virus is no respecter of persons and has invaded our Baptist churches with an unrelenting fury. Pastors and church staff members have not been immune to this raging illness. In fact, both Kevin Williams, the president of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and Tommy Fountain, Sr., the chairman of the Georgia Baptist Convention Executive Committee, have been stricken with COVID-19 and hospitalized with complications from the illness.
Williams, pastor of First Baptist Church Villa Rica, his wife Patrice, and their daughters Grace and Hope have all had the virus. The GBC president explained, “Patrice and I both were sick on Thanksgiving Day and tested positive the Saturday after Thanksgiving. We were tired and lethargic, each of us had a fever and a headache, and we had double pneumonia.” The Williams couple ended up in the hospital with rooms next to each other. They could not see each other but communicated by knocking on the wall between them.
The convention president developed blood clots on his lungs and a blood infection. His physician placed him on high flow oxygen therapy, which was maxed out at 100 percent. His condition became so serious that the hospital staff contemplated putting him on a ventilator. He recalled, “I have to admit I became fearful of having to be placed on a ventilator, but 2 Timothy 1:7 comforted me. That is where the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, ‘For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.’ That verse helped me tremendously.
“I was in the hospital for seven days the first time and sent home, but had to return to the hospital for five additional days. Patrice was in the hospital for nine days. I am currently at home on oxygen until the levels are normal; and I am on blood thinner medication for the next 3-6 months.”
Williams admitted that he has no idea when or how he and Patrice contracted the virus. He insisted that they tried to be cautious, practiced social distancing, and wore a mask when near other people. He exclaimed, “Please take this virus seriously. My wife and I were in great physical health before we got COVID and it almost took our lives. We were walking 5-7 miles a day and being careful about what we ate. Prior to the virus the reports from our physical examinations were excellent.
“I knew I was going to be nominated as president of the GBC, and we were trying to make sure we were physically fit for serving the Lord in whatever way God would choose to use us, but in reality, God was preparing us to survive this virus. We will take the vaccine as soon as it is available.”
Tommy Fountain, pastor of 1025 Church in Monroe, and his wife Dianne were diagnosed with COVID on November 30. He stated, “My symptoms were a cough, a fever, and a terrible headache. My oxygen level began dropping about the 10th day into my illness. I was taken to the hospital by ambulance on December 5 and was diagnosed with bilateral pneumonia. I was given remdesivir, steroids, and antibiotics for the next four days. As of January 7, I have been on oxygen for 38 days.”
Dianne remained sick at home while Tommy was in the hospital, but on December 9 when her husband was coming home from the hospital, Dianne was headed to the hospital for three days of professional medical care. The Monroe pastor stated, “One of my 1025 Church deacons, Kevin Soles, brought me home from the hospital while his wife, Sheila, was taking Dianne to the hospital. Kathy Farmer, a respiratory therapist, helped us and my assistant, Dawn Parker, and Greg and Noelle Pannell were invaluable in the attention and care they provided.”
Fountain is involved in the local high school athletic program as chaplain for football and basketball and thinks he could have been exposed to the virus at one of their events.
Like his friend Williams, Fountain received great care and assistance from his church. Both churches started a meal train for their pastors’ families; and meals were brought into their homes for several weeks. Fountain declared, “The calls, cards, prayers, and the gifts have been numerous from our church people. My leadership team said I could not preach during the month of December and insisted that I take that month to recuperate.” However, the 1025 Church pastor preached two funerals and rumor has it that he was seen sneaking in and out of the office on several occasions. (It is hard to keep a good man down).
Williams stated, “Our church was incredible. Their love, attention, and prayers sustained and blessed us beyond description. It was a real blessing to see them in action to help us in our time of need. We love them so much!”
On Christmas day, Tommy Fountain’s brother, Jerry, passed away from COVID after three weeks of hospitalization. He was a Baptist deacon with a strong Christian testimony. “COVID-19 is real and extremely dangerous,” Fountain added. “I cannot emphasize enough the importance of following all of the CDC guidelines for protecting yourself and others against this virus.
Both pastors have reported that their churches have responded to this pandemic with resilience and flexibility. Both churches have remained faithful in giving their tithes and offerings and while in person attendance is down in both churches the viewers for the live streaming and online services has increased exponentially. During this pandemic, 1025 Church has added 125 new members with 44 of them coming into the church by baptism. First Baptist Villa Rica has received 165 new members into the fellowship and baptized 53 new converts.
Prior to the pandemic the 1025 Church had grown to an average worship attendance of approximately 600 and First Baptist Villa Rica had grown to an average of nearly 1300. Like churches all across the nation their attendance has decreased during this past year, but the live streaming and online worship numbers have remarkably increased; and it is likely that more people are hearing the gospel preached in Monroe, Villa Rica. America and the world than ever before.